Top 10 things Gov. Ron DeSantis has done to ruin democracy in Florida

OPINION: Florida is a classic example of why we cannot allow strongmen to turn back the clock and take away hard-earned rights. We must call out undemocratic policies and continue to organize for change.

Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

The legislative session in Florida has come to an end, and with it, hopes for the triumph of democracy. There was an onslaught of anti-democratic bills so severe that our individual liberties are being quickly chipped away. Things are so dire that earlier this year, the Florida Conference of the NAACP urged its national organization to issue a travel advisory, warning Black people not to come to the Sunshine State (NAACP issued an advisory on Saturday). The advisory is an attempt to alert Black communities of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political policies and practices that harm our community. 

Many people in Florida are concerned about the direction of the state and the impact of anti-democratic policies on people from marginalized communities. Here are 10 things Gov. DeSantis and his administration have done to undermine democracy and citizens in Florida.

1. During the redistricting process of 2021 and 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis drew his own legislative lines in a way that weakened the political power of Black voters. 

2. Gov. DeSantis has silenced discussions on race and racism through the “Stop WOKE Act,” which he signed in April 2022. The measure restricts discussions of race, gender and inequality. But now he has doubled down by signing into law Senate Bill 266, which prohibits Florida colleges and universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion programs. NBC6 explained it this way: “Under SB 266, colleges and universities will be prevented from spending state or federal money to promote, support or maintain programs or campus activities that ‘advocate for’ diversity, equity and inclusion. Schools also will not be able to spend money on programs or activities that ‘promote or engage in political or social activism’ as defined by the State Board of Education or the university system’s Board of Governors.” We cannot progress past the worst moments in our nation’s history if we’re barred from discussing them.

3. Gov. DeSantis, through the Florida Department of Education, urged the College Board to remove Advanced Placement courses in African-American studies. This is the latest in a string of steps the administration has taken to undermine the teaching of African-American history or courses on America’s racist past. The faith community has responded by vowing to teach Black history in churches and at church gatherings.

4. The governor and his Republican allies in the state legislature also threatened to ban Black fraternities and sororities from college campuses in Florida. With House Bill 999, Republicans opposed diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, as well as content and majors that address the history of oppression. Black Greek organizations were initially not exempt. While this measure has undergone multiple rewrites, the fact that Black Greek organizations were included in the first place is terrifying. It represents the latest in a string of assaults on Black people. 

5. Gov. DeSantis has attacked reproductive freedom by signing into law one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the nation. The law would ban most abortions in the state after six weeks. The law will not only restrict reproductive freedoms, but it will traumatize families and possibly give rise to a whole new host of mental health challenges. For instance, due to the state’s restrictive laws, one mother, Deborah Dorbert was forced to carry her pregnancy to term even though her fetus had no kidneys. Another woman, Anya Cook, had a miscarriage in her salon bathroom after doctors refused to end her pregnancy due to the state’s then-15-week abortion ban. Cook lost more than half her blood as she miscarried. She barely survived. What we must appreciate, is that these are more than just restrictions; they are death sentences for women and people who become pregnant.

6. In addition to targeting Black people and women, Gov. DeSantis and Florida legislators are also going after undocumented immigrants. DeSantis signed SB 1718, which would ban local governments from contributing money to organizations creating identification cards for undocumented persons, bar undocumented persons from using driver’s licenses in Florida that were issued by other states and prevent undocumented persons from practicing law in Florida. It would also allow law enforcement officials to randomly audit businesses suspected of employing undocumented workers. The measure would also expand E-Verify penalties on businesses. Although DeSantis wanted to ban in-state tuition for undocumented students, Republicans did not include that provision in the final bill.

7. The governor’s reign of terror also places patients, hospitals and health care professionals in a precarious position. For instance, SB 1718 would force hospitals to inquire about the immigration status of patients. This could disincentivize Floridians from seeking needed medical care. It could also increase health disparities if immigrants and people of color are afraid to seek medical care due to prying health officials. 

8. Additionally, SB 1718 will give $12 million to DeSantis’ migrant flight program, in which the governor transports unsuspecting, undocumented immigrants to states with Democratic-elected leaders. The migrants are transported without housing, jobs or food. 

9. Gov. DeSantis signed into law legislation banning Chinese citizens from owning land in Florida unless they are also American citizens. The law will also ban the use of Chinese-owned social media platforms such as TikTok on government devices. Advocates are concerned that the legislation could lead to the targeting and profiling of Chinese and non-white citizens.

10. When people and institutions have spoken out against DeSantis’ policies, some say they have faced retribution. For instance, Disney filed a federal lawsuit alleging retaliation after it criticized the state’s policy of restricting conversations on gender identity and sexual orientation in class. Critics have called the measure, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 

Florida is a classic example of why we cannot allow strongmen to turn back the clock and take away hard-earned rights. We must call out immoral and undemocratic policies and continue to organize for change. As dire as this moment may seem, we are not without hope. Ordinary people can indeed do the extraordinary when they unite and refuse to quit.

Rev. Rhonda Thomas is the executive director of Faith in Florida and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative.

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